March 12th – Errant Minds, Intelligent Machines, Deviant Computers

Errant Minds, Intelligent Machines, Deviant Computers

David Bates
Thur, March 12th | 4:00 – 6:00 PM | 1246 Social Sciences & Humanities

It is normally assumed that the concept of error (and related ones such as failure, pathology, and interruption) is a negative one, definable only in terms of an ideal of truth. In the era of digital technologies, error is something to be corrected. Yet philosophically speaking, error is not just parasitic on a truth that measures it. From Descartes to Heidegger, error names a fundamental condition of the human mind, its propensity to stray, as the etymology of error implies. In this context, the error is in fact a way toward truth, for the mind is always searching, exploring, even when straying. What would it mean to think the history of computerization and the truth of the digital from the perspective of error and failure, rather than truth and success? Surprisingly, at key moments in the development of digital technology the concept of error was in fact central to the project of simulating human minds and brains with computers.

David Bates received his PhD in European History from the University of Chicago, where he specialized in the French Enlightenment and the Revolutionary period. As a post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia David Bates worked for two years on early twentieth-century thought, with a focus on theology, history, and political theory in Britain, Germany, and France. Since coming to Berkeley in 1999, Bates has been working on two main research tracks: one on the history of legal and political ideas, and the other on the relationship between technology, science, and the history of human cognition. His undergraduate courses and graduate seminars are usually divided between these two main topic areas.